Thursday, January 17, 2013

EU politics: how to lose a referendum

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"Very courageous", says Sir Humprey, words calculated to strike terror into the heart of any minister or prime minister. Loosely translated, they mean: "this will lose you the election".

Instead of watching Yes Minister, however, Hannan has been reading "Biggles does Churchill", calling up the spirit of the Great Man standing on the White Cliffs of Dover, shaking his fist at the Hun. 

But this is not 1940, we're not at war (yet), and Mr Cameron certainly isn't Winston Churchill. To strike a defiant pose and declare, "If necessary, we will stand alone in Europe", as Hannan would have him do, is not only preposterous but wrong. 

Few things could actually be more spectacularly misjudged. The idea of being "alone" (not that we ever were in 1940) so easily translates as "isolated" and provides manna from Heaven for the europhiles. They are only too keen to invoke images of "little England" retreating into isolation. They don't need any help from us. 

"Standing alone" is precisely the negative language we need to avoid if we are win a referendum, should we be given one. Choice of vocabulary is crucial. Britain in a post-EU world should always be painted in a positive, upbeat manner. The current position should be coloured black. 

Thus, we are not leaving "Europe". Nor indeed, are we leaving the European Union – a system of government rather than a continent. The EU is descending into the abyss of political integration. We are standing on the edge of the precipice, holding back, refusing to plunge to destruction. 

As to our trading position, we are trapped in the small-minded purgatory of regulation and protectionism, isolated in "Little Europe". The sunlit uplands of the wider world and its trade liberalisation beckon us. 

Thus, we should ask our prime minister to "decouple" us from this "Little Europe", so that we can "re-engage" with the international community and take our proper position in the world. 

And that goes for Article 50. Hannan has at last discovered it but he completely miscasts it. This should not the last resort – the last, despairing throw after everything else has failed. It is the "golden key" to a happy and more prosperous future. It is the means by which we unlock the shackles and rejoin the world. 

This, at least, the Democracy Movement, has understood. Article 50, it says, "is the only method by which a significant renegotiation can be guaranteed". But even then, it tells us that, "if David Cameron is serious about renegotiation, he must first notify the EU that Britain will leave". 

We should avoid the l-word. We are invoking Article 50 to "decouple" ourselves from a train that is going the wrong way. We will then "re-engage" and continue to the correct destination. Soon enough, the "colleagues" will realise they have got it wrong, and follow our lead. 

When it comes to the points we wish to project, therefore, it's how tell 'em that counts. There's the right way and the wrong way. "Standing alone" is the wrong way. Hannan, with the help of the Mail, is trying to lose us the game.